VULNERABLE GROUP

State acts to protect TB patients from Covid-19 exposure

TB and Covid-19 symptoms are more or less similar

In Summary

• Kenya reported and treated 84,504 patients in 2019, out of whom 8,391 (9.7 per cent) were children

• Covid-19 typically affects the lungs and people who contract it may show similar symptoms to TB such as coughing and fever

Dr Myriam Sidibe, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and Dr Amit Thakker during a Covid-19 briefing at Afya House on March 24, 2020
Dr Myriam Sidibe, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and Dr Amit Thakker during a Covid-19 briefing at Afya House on March 24, 2020
Image: /MAGDALINE SAYA

Concern has been raised about vulnerable groups, especially those with TB, as the country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus. 

People with tuberculosis in particular are among the groups that need special attention to safeguard continuity of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Tuesday said TB and Covid-19 symptoms are similar.

 

“Though fragile, we have made gains in the fight against TB in Kenya. We will ensure normal programmes and care for people with TB are not interrupted or affected as we address the current Covid-19 pandemic,” the CS said.

According to statistics released by Kagwe, Kenya reported and treated 84,504 patients in 2019, out of whom 8,391 (9.7 per cent) were children.

“Our health facilities are alert as we continue with active case finding, keeping in mind that TB and Covid-19 symptoms are more or less the same,” the CS said.

“Though TB diagnosis, medicines and nutritional support are offered free of charge at all government and faith-based health facilities, there are still many with TB who are not receiving the care they need.”

TB is the fifth leading cause of death in Kenya. The country is ranked among the world’s 30 nations with a high burden of the disease.

TB affects an estimated 10.4 million people globally and causes nearly 1.5 million deaths annually.

The CS is concerned that the number of drug resistant TB cases has been on the increase over the years and as of 2019, there were 688 people with multi-drug resistant TB on treatment.

 

Covid-19 typically affects the lungs and people who contract it may show similar symptoms to TB such as coughing and fever.

It’s likely that people with lung damage, such as TB patients, or those with weak immune systems, including those with poorly-controlled HIV, may suffer from more severe forms of Covid-19 if infected.

In addition, many patients with TB live in densely populated areas, and this close proximity to others further increases their risk of getting Covid-19.

This is especially true in overcrowded settlements or refugee camps, which have little access to clean water or healthcare.

“We need to double our efforts to find all the missing people with TB and put those at risk of TB on preventive treatment.”

Kagwe said there are still some huge funding gaps that face TB prevention, care and treatment. 

“We are aware that TB patients have been known to face catastrophic costs while seeking treatment and care. In the spirit of UHC, the National Strategic Plan targets having zero families facing catastrophic costs due to TB,” he reiterated.

Kagwe said control of Covid-19 in Kenya has benefitted a lot from the work of the national TB programme in areas of infection, prevention and control, diagnosis, contact tracing and isolation.

He urged stakeholders and partners, including civil society, to continue supporting the ministry and ensure continuity in concerted efforts in fighting and ending TB by 2035.

“I wish to call upon all healthcare providers not to relent in their efforts in combating this ancient disease by actively looking for missing TB patients among their clients who come to seek medical services in hospitals and create awareness at the community on TB.”

According to Medecins Sens Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), the worrying situation being experienced today will become even more grave if diagnosis and treatment for HIV or TB is interrupted.

“We know from previous epidemics that reduced access to care, medicines and diagnostics for people with life-threatening conditions, such as TB, can lead to an increase of deaths from these underlying conditions,” MSF said.

The agency said that given the high risk of severe disease in TB patients, efforts to minimize the impact of Covid-19 should include the provision of protective measures for staff and those in contact with TB patients.

Edited by A.Ndung'u